Measures are now in progress by the Legislature of New York for the purpose of raising means to complete the unfinished canals of the State, embracing the Erie as a grand trunk, and the Osw'ego, Chenango and some others as branches For a considerable period of time, the Erie canal was the longest in the world (360 miles), but it has recently been exceeded by the famous Ganges canal in the East Indies, which is about twice as long, and of far greater, capacity By connecting the great inland American lakes with the Atlantic Ocean through the Hudson river, the Erie canal raised New York to 'a high commercial position, as it was for a number of years the chief avenue of inland communication for passengers and merchandise to and from the Northwest Just before the advent of railroads, its business had increased so rapidly that it was found necessary to increase its capacity for boats of greater tunnage To effect this object, an act was passed about twenty years ago, and arrangements were made to carry it out on a grand scale Various sections of it were then contracted for, and the work of improvement was commenced and went on for some time ; but such an amount of political chicanery was developed in the management of it, and such embarrassments were inflicted upon the State finances that the works were stopped, leaving various sections of the canal, at intermediate points, in their original condition A vast debt has been thereby contracted for canals, amounting at present to about twentyfive millions of dollars, and as the carrying capacity of the Erie is limited by its old narrow sections, no proportional benefits have been derived from those which were enlarged To obtain the advantages which should be secured by the latter sections, the whole canal requires to be finished to the same extent throughout; this is stated to be the object of the present movement in the Legislature, and is not the first instance of the kind It is estimated by friends of the measure that five millions of dollars will completely finish all the State canals, but like all government estimates, this one, in all likelihood, is too low by one half But why should five millions or one million be expended in enlarging the canals ; would it not be a sheer waste of money thus to apply it ? It would really appear to be so Canals seem to have outlived their usefulness; they were good enough in their day, but are not adapted to the present state of commercial progress; they have been superseded by railroads This is so evident that the man who would propose to build a canal now would be laughed at as one beside himself Would the proposition be any more wise as applied to enlarging the canals ? Twentyfour years ago the whole internal passenger traffic of our country was carried on by canal and river navigation, but at the present day a passenger seldom sets his foot on a canal boat The passenger packets once so numerous on our canals are now scattered along their banks like the mastodon relics of a past age In twenty years railroads have engrossed the whole inland passenger traffic of our country, also much of the freight trade, and they are yet destined to absorb the whole of it In England, canals have become obsolete, railroads having entirely superseded them as a means of internal communication Those made before the railroad era in that country, as a matter of course, are still used wherever they can be without loss, but no new canals have been commenced in twentyfour years Some of the beds of the old canals have been filled up and converted into railroads ; others have had rail tracks constructed on their t,(f banks j many have been closed up, and some |p|undertaken in the beginning of the railroad era have been abandoned in the course of construction and left in their unfinished state In view of these facts, would it not be unwise to expend more money in enlarging any of our canalswould not the money so expended be thrown away? The wisest policy to pursue, apparently, is to utilize the canals, since we have them, as long as they pay their expenses, allowing them to die out gradually Coupled with the project of raising means to finish the State canals, it is proposed by the advocates of the project to impose tolls on our railroads, the " Central" especially, for carrying freight This proposition is as unjust as it is impolitic, and the more especially as it is intended to devote the tolls for the benefit of the canals The Tribune asks that the Central Railroad should be taxed to contribute half a million of dollars per annum to the completion of the canals The suggestion is as enlightened and honorable as to ask for the imposition of a tax on a young manufacturing company using the most recent and improved machinery, and doing a profitable business, in order to sustain an old losing company, in paying for the repairs of its antediluvian machinery, and the maintenance of its foggy managers This is a splendid way to encourage new improvements, and help on the car of progress It would be as unjust to tax our railroads for the benefit of our canals as the latter for the formereach should stand upon its own merits, to live or perish
This article was originally published with the title "Canals and Railroads"